Industry Honchos Swap Ideas at Variety’s Awards Studio

Writers Billy Ray and Tracy Letts
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

On Wednesday and Thursday, Variety assembled 50-plus industry pros to exchange ideas about the nuts and bolts of the business today, with all of them offering sharp and funny insights that sometimes surprised even their peers.

Jenelle Riley and I divided up duties at the Variety Awards Studio of moderating nine panels, covering writing, directing, producing, animation and various film and TV acting categories. In the near-future, and print issues will carry more complete coverage of the conversations; meanwhile, here is a cross-section of comments from the sessions, held at the new Leica Gallery in West Hollywood.

When discussing the various stages of film directing, John Wells and Nicole Holofcener explained why their favorite part is the production period, when they can be surprised every day by actors’ work. (Holofcener added, “I don’t like prep at all; I feel like I’m sitting in a van for six weeks.”) John Lee Hancock countered that he loves preproduction because it’s a time of unlimited possibilities of choices.

At the writers conversation, Tracy Letts (right, in photo above) growled in self-mocking agony over translating his Pulitzer play “August: Osage County” into a film, while Billy Ray (left in photo) spoke about the unusual rush of excitement and pride of seeing the first cut of “Captain Phillips.”

Several actors laughingly talked about the pain of auditions, while David Oyelowo told a cautionary tale about one actor who refused to audition and missed out on a role that eventually won an Oscar for the star who embraced the audition as a chance to show the director that he could play against type.

Chris Meledandri (of “Despicable Me 2”) paid tribute to the hundreds of people involved in a single animated film, with each making a creative contribution in a way that’s very different from live-action workers. Kirk De Micco (“The Croods”) spoke of “the big power of animation” globally, as people in other countries accept an animated character as one of their own, in a way that they don’t quite embrace an American actor dubbed into their own language.

The guests were thoughtful and perceptive, with each making smart points about their profession and the state of the industry as a whole. Every session started with interviewer’s questions, but quickly moved into conversation, as the panelists quizzed each other or built upon another guest’s ideas. As one attendee observed afterwards, people in the industry are often so busy working on their own projects that they don’t get to exchange ideas with their peers.

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